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Vindication or God’s Righteousness in His Relationship with Israel (Romans 9:1-10:21)

The Seventh Bible Class
(Romans 9:1-10:21)

IV. Vindication or God’s Righteousness in His Relationship with Israel

The Gentiles have found salvation through grace, but the Jews seem to have been overlooked since the death of Jesus. A new elect people are rising up throughout the earth, called the Church, but where are the Jews? Oh there are many Jewish people coming to faith and becoming members of this mystical body of Christ; but the Jewish people as a whole are not—they reject Jesus as the Messiah and, if religious, follow their traditions. To many readers of theology there seems to be a dilemma, and they can only see an either-or: either the Gospel is true and the promises to Israel nullified, or the gospel is false and the promises are yet to be fulfilled. Paul will show that it is not a case of either or, but of both and. Paul will show in these chapters that the Jews have misread the Old Testament and therefore rejected Jesus. But a close reading of the prophets reveals that there always was a distinction made between the nation of Israel as a whole and the believing Jews (a remnant). So this section is an attempt to explain God’s dealings with Jews as a vindication of righteousness. Paul does it by a clear exposition of the Scriptures. He will show that Israel’s rejection is related to the spiritual pride of the Jews (9,10), that Israel’s rejection is not complete because some are being saved (11), and that Israel’s rejection is not final because it will be reversed before the coming of the Lord (the end of chapter 11).

A. The Consideration of Israel’s Rejection (9:1-29)
      1. The Concern for Israel (9:1-5)

It is a great concern of the apostle Paul that Israel as a nation is now unrelated to God and His Messiah. His anxiety and sorrow for them leads him to a hypothetical wish—if theologically possible—that he be cursed in their place. It is a potential (unthinkable wish) formula; but it communicates his anguish over their unbelief. This modern idea that the Jews have a covenant with God and therefore do not have to be evangelized to believe in Jesus as the Messiah is an idea that Paul would completely reject. If Jesus the Messiah is indeed God manifested in the flesh, then this is the God of the Old Testament. How could Israel be saved and reject their LORD?

Paul lists eight features that set the nation of Israel apart from all other nations. As a nation the Hebrews were uniquely privileged: they had been adopted as God’s own people; to them was revealed the Shekinah1 glory that streamed into the tabernacle; with them God entered into solemn covenant; they were the recipients of the Law; to them belonged the service of God in the Sanctuary; they had the promises and the patriarchs; but most of all, Christ2 Himself was born a Jew. What priceless treasures were given to Israel.

The translation of verse 5 poses a real theological problem. The KJV says, “from whom came the Messiah in the flesh, who is over all God, blessed forever.” The NIV translates the verse “and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” The passage rendered this way says clearly that Jesus is God. But that plain rendering has troubled some, and so there are other renderings that simply turn the expression into a reference to the blessing for God. There are four renderings possible for the grammar: (1) place the comma after “flesh” and refer it all to Christ; (2) make a full stop after “flesh” with a separate sentence starting, “He who is God”; (3) leave the punctuation as is but render it, “He who is over all is God blessed”; and (4) put a comma after “flesh” and a full stop after “all” to read “who is over all. God be blessed.”

Exegesis and not grammar alone makes the reference to Christ probable (and the NIV translation preferable). If Jesus is not God, what other way could the Messiah have come but by the flesh? That makes little sense. There are several considerations in the passage that lead to the support of the NIV rendering—and to the passage being a clear affirmation of the deity of Christ. First, there is a reference to human nature in the first part, so you would expect something different in the last part (recall the way Paul did this in 1:3,4). We expect an antithesis, and that would be “who is over all God.” Second, the transitional words “who is” probably refers to the noun preceding it, Christ. This is the most natural way to read the line. Third, if “blessed” is to go with God the Father, then the term should come first. That would be the normal word order: Blessed is God. Fourth, the context suggests a lament and not a praise to God. Israel has failed to believe in Messiah in spite of all the privileges she had. The greatest blessing is this climax—a Messiah who is God over all. Finally, salvation comes through the Messiah; and physical descent from Israel is not sufficient for salvation. Rather, it is that the Messiah is divine. According to Paul, Israel should have known all this; it was in the Old Testament Scriptures.

      2. Israel’s Identification (9:6-13)

Some might raise the question why Israel failed to accept Jesus as the Messiah since they were the elect nation. Is not this a failure on God’s part?—they might reason. But Paul is going to make a distinction between the natural descendants (=seed) of Jacob and the spiritual descendants. God did not fail—the promises were unconditional; but the people failed, and without faith could not have a share in the promises.

He begins in verse 6 by affirming that it is not such a thing as the Word of God having fallen out. Rather, the problem was with the people—”not all of Israel are Israel,” meaning, not everyone who claimed to be an Israelite was truly a believer and therefore part of Israel, the people of God. In fact, because divine election operates then there was in Israel both the elect and the non-elect. Paul’s expression “from Israel” refers to the nation as a whole; his reference to “Israel” means the chosen element, those who are called. All may be children of Abraham, but not all are children of God. God chose a remnant of them, those who would be the recipients of the promise: “In Isaac shall your seed be called.” The point is that back of belief there is a divine calling (cf. Luke 19:9—also a son of Abraham—called), even though many Christians do not like to here this. They want it all to be their doing. But that is not what Paul says in this chapter. So here Paul distinguishes between the “children of the promise” and the “natural children” within the nation of Israel. Just being born into a Hebrew family did not mean that they were believers.

Paul refers to the way that the promise was stated, and it is a word of grace. Two illustrations work here. First, Abraham had two wives, and that is why God had to specify “in Isaac.” But then Paul carries the law of limitation to the second illustration. Rebecca was the mother of twins by one man—Isaac. And so Scripture says that “the elder will serve the younger.” How could this be? Verse 11 clarifies that it is by God’s election, for God’s purpose. The two boys were not even born yet; they had not sinned yet; but their destiny had been determined in relation to God’s program. Paul then closes out this discussion with a citation from Malachi: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” “Love” means to choose spontaneously and with affection; “hate” means the opposite, to reject.3 The emphasis in the oracle and in Malachi as well is on the election of nations and not individuals. The stress is on the resultant acts of the lines of Jacob and Esau.

But it is impossible to choose a nation without choosing individuals (the same is true of judging). So the text must be speaking of individual election as well. Paul knew full well that you could not think of the descendants without thinking of the heads. He knew that in Genesis 25:23 both ancestors and descendants were included. So he is beginning to build the case that divine election was at work, even within the family of Israelites. Israel should have known from her own history that not everyone born in the family of Abraham was part of the spiritual seed. These oracles make that clear. So while chapter 9 deals primarily with national entities, individuals are also in view.

      3. The Choice of Israel (9:14-29)

The key to this discussion on the election of Israel is given at the very beginning: there is no unrighteousness with God. Paul anticipates the objections of his fellow Jews (v. 14 and v. 19) that deal with the nature of God. There are two sides of the same issue: Is God righteous in his sovereign choice? In verse 14 Paul deals with it from the Godward side; after verse 19 he looks at it from the human side. His answers are taken from Scripture because those who might object do accept the Scriptures.

Paul’s first answer to the question about God’s justice is the emphatic “May it never be.” His second answer to that question then is from the Scripture to show God’s answer to Moses. There is no unrighteousness with God because he is dealing with sinners; his election of some is based on mercy and compassion. It has nothing to do with mankind’s desire or effort. The first quote of Scripture was to Moses, and that shows God’s mercy; the second quote was about Pharaoh, and that shows God’s severity. It is, according to Paul, God’s right to harden some in their unbelief (as C. S. Lewis says, if people will not say to God, “Thy will be done,” God will say to them, “thy will be done”).. God did not force Pharaoh to do anything apart from his will; he was a proud, brutal, hardened sinner, and so God would confirm that by hardening him in his ways for the purpose of judgment on him in the deliverance of Israel. This was part of God’s retributive justice.

But divine election, on the other hand, shows mercy.

The natural man (our human nature) rebels against the idea of the sovereignty of God. If God makes the choice, people often respond with cries of injustice. We may not be able to reconcile in our own thinking the relation between election and free will; both are taught in Scripture. But election cannot be minimized or done away with. We may say that we came to faith at such and such a time; but we also must say that God called us, or elected us. If people refuse to believe, they cannot say they were forced to it—they did as they wished; but theologically, we must also say that they were not elect. How to harmonize these two truths is beyond human ability. But then the person and works of God are beyond our understanding.

But God is righteous in his dealings. If he chooses to save some, it is because of his mercy and compassion. When he extends mercy, he is right; when he rejects, he is right. The Jews of Paul’s day had thought God could not reject them because they were Abraham’s seed; and God could not have accepted the Gentiles, because they were not of Abraham’s seed. Paul shows that they have understood the matter incorrectly, on both accounts.

The second argument begins in verse 19: How can God blame anyone, then; we are only doing what he willed us to do? Paul does not really bother with a serious answer to this question. The question indicates a forgetfulness of the position of mankind with the Creator. He is talking here of one who defies God, not one with doubts and questions. Paul repels the answer—the charge of divine injustice shows ignorance of God. God does not have to answer charges from any of his creatures. Warped conceptions of God are at the heart of idolatry anyway, as with Pharaoh, or any other pagans. Thus, Paul is making it clear that a knowledge of the attributes of God is essential for understanding the works of God. “Who are you who replies against God?” God is the sovereign Lord of creation! As S. A. Nagel writes,

You cannot put one little star in motion,

You cannot shape one single forest leaf,

Nor fling a mountain up, nor sink an ocean,

Presumptuous pygmy, large with unbelief!

You cannot bring one dawn of regal splendor,

Nor bid the day to shadowy twilight fall,

Nor send the pale moon forth with radiance tender;

And dare you doubt the One who has done it all?

The thinking of such a charge against God is that if God had not intervened with election, taking some and leaving others hardened in their unbelief, then all people would have an equal chance. That is false. If God did not elect, none would be saved. For there is none that seeks after God. People are not lost because they are hardened, they are hardened because they are lost, and they are lost because they are sinners.

Paul has shown that God is free to act in the mystery and majesty of his sovereignty. Now, in verse 22, Paul proceeds to show that God deals in patience and mercy even with the vessels of wrath, those people who are fitted for destruction. God could have dealt with them in immediate judgment, but he chose not to. He chose to give them every opportunity to reveal any inclination for obedience. So, Paul would be saying, what becomes of your complaint about injustice now?

In verse 23 and 24 Paul shows a contrast between those vessels of wrath with the vessels of mercy. God shows patience toward both; but the vessels of mercy he prepares for glory. So throughout the passage Paul has been arguing that divine election has been at work to save some. All have sinned and deserve the wrath of God. But God in mercy and compassion chooses some to be spared. No one can lay any charge against God, for he is both sovereign and righteous. And no one can say that they did not have a chance, for people always do what they want to do. The message that comes through all the way in Paul’s writings is that you can become part of the elect by believing in Jesus Christ. But if you do not want to do that, why should you object to those who do? And if you do not want salvation, then why are you criticizing the idea of divine election?

And if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, and you discover that God has chosen you, why should that trouble you? You believed in God, you made your choice; and now you find out that God was behind it all, calling you to himself. That should fill you with comfort, knowing that your salvation is not totally dependant on you.

There are many ways that this has worked out in the history of Israel. Godet offers one application that the vessels of wrath are the Jewish people of the time, the nation to be destroyed in 70 A.D. Jesus announced the destruction but was longsuffering, weeping over the city. After the judgment fell, a remnant believed in Christ and were saved. These would be vessels of mercy rescued from being vessels of warth. On the human side, they believed; on the divine side, they were chosen.

Paul closes out this section with a brief discussion of God’s choice of people to be saved according to Scripture prophecies (vv. 25-29). The first citation comes from Hosea 2:23 and refers in the first place to the nation of Israel. God had rejected his people for their unbelief and they went into exile, but another generation did believe and God restored them to the land. Here the readers should have been reminded that Israelites—the elect nation—were rejected for unbelief. They may have claimed to be among the chosen people, but without faith they could not be saved.

The second passage comes from Hosea 1:10. It refers to those who respond to the truth and obey the word of the Lord. Again, here is evidence that all Israel was condemned, but some who were not called “my people” would be called the Sons of the Living God.

Then he cites Isaiah 10:22,23 and 1:9, to announce that only a remnant would be saved, for unless the Lord had been merciful, the whole nation of Israel would have been like Sodom—totally destroyed. God never did save the bulk of Israel; it was always a remnant by grace. As you read the history of Israel in the Old Testament, being the natural descendants of Abraham availed Israel little; most of them were hardened in unbelief and refused to believe the Lord, became idolaters and were judged. But there was always a remnant of true believers, the true seed of Abraham by faith as well as by birth.

B. The Explanation of Israel’s Rejection (9:30—10:21)
      1. Israel’s Unbelief (9:30—10:4).

Israel (meaning collectively, for the most part, in general, but not every Israelite) rejected Jesus as their Messiah and failed to find true righteousness because of their legalism. Their privileges proved to be their stumblingstone. Their legalism (9:30-33) is a paradox with the Gentiles who have obtained righteousness. The Jews failure was twofold: they stumbled in seeking righteousness by the works of the Law (9:30-33) and they refused God’s righteousness when it was offered to them (10:1-4). But the Gentiles found it by faith. Paul quotes Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16 together here concerning the “rock,” a symbol of the Messiah; this rock is a stone that causes people to stumble, but it is also a stone that brings salvation to others. In the midst of a passage about judgment for sin, God’s word of grace was extended. The legalist stumbled over it; the truly repentant found grace.

In the first few verses of chapter 10 Paul establishes the point that the Jewish people (most of the leaders and the people) refused God’s righteousness. Their great zeal for the Law worked against them. This pains him. Paul alludes to Isaiah 15:5 where the heart of the prophet was pained for the judgment on Moab; Paul follows this succession of prophets in 10:1. But the Jews sought to establish their own righteousness and could not do it.

The only way to be righteous enough to merit salvation is to be as righteous as Jesus, the Son of God. If that is not achieved, and it cannot be, then one has to be “in Christ” by faith. He is the “end” of the Law. This word telos means either goal or end. In the sense of “goal” it means that Christ is the fulfillment of the Law, as in Galatians 3:24. In the sense of “end” it signifies that Christ is the termination of the law as the binding system for believers. Jesus Christ alone satisfied all the demands of the Law and therefore has done it; but the Law also pointed to him as the one to fulfill its demands.4 So faith in Christ alone brings the righteousness to believers.

      2. Israel’s Standing (10:5-12)

The present standing of Israel is the same as the Gentiles—”there is no difference between Jew and Gentile,” all are lost, and all must call upon the name of the Lord for salvation.

Paul now addresses the issue of righteousness that comes by faith. He uses Moses’ Law to prove this—showing it was always in the Law. He refers to Deuteronomy 30:8-14. The method employed here is a Jewish midrash (analogical application); he weaves in verses from the Law and explains them in a spiritually applicable way.5 Paul is not claiming a fulfillment of Deuteronomy; rather, he is simply saying that faith as the principle of eternal life is found in the Law. He is not saying that Deuteronomy was about justification by faith; rather, he is saying that they did not have to go to find the oracle from God, because the word of faith was in their hearts. “This commandment” means the commandment to Israel to keep the Law and perform righteousness. Paul is saying that “this commandment” results from the word that is in the heart—faith. Paul then takes the phrases from Deuteronomy and applies them to Christ: who shall ascend to bring Christ down—he has already come; who shall descend to bring him up—he has already risen.6 The language of Moses then can be related to what Christ did. The analogy is this: Moses was saying it is easy, don’t work for it, don’t go on a mythocal quest for it, it begins in your heart by faith; Paul is saying, Don’t look for it in that way, or try to gain it by your works, for Christ has already come and accomplished it. So the principle of faith was always behind the command to do righteousness.

Paul now makes his major application. The commandment to believe now has the full content to it because Jesus has come. So the word is “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Here is the content of the word of faith—such confession is the outward expression of the belief in the truth. Paul does not necessarily mean that this be a public meeting; but there must be some response to the truth in prayer or praise.

When he says that the confession is “Jesus is Lord” he means that Jesus is the Yahweh God of the Old Testament. This does not simply mean make him Lord or master in every area of your life—that takes forever, but that would be what one would try to do if one believed Jesus is God. But Paul means at conversion one must acknowledge His divine person and His supernatural works.

The second part of the confession is the resurrection. Jesus as Lord would be incomplete in the ancient context—it is incomplete. You must believe he is a Lord who had a particular historical occasion. Unlike pagan deities, He stands within and without history. He is God, but He came into this world and conquered sin and death to demonstrate His sovereign power. And his conquest of sin and death, and his sovereignty over all life, was declared by his resurrection. To deny the resurrection is to reduce Jesus to being just another teacher who made great claims and promises.

Then, citing Joel, Paul announces that for both Jew and Gentile, rich and poor alike, whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. To call upon Him means to believe in Him, to proclaim faith in him, to acknowledge who he is and what he has done, and to appropriate that for oneself by faith. And this is open to “whoever” calls. Once again, the whole issue of election and free will is beyond our understanding. We live in the world; we act according to our will and our desire; we see only the phenomena—what appears and what we understand. When anyone hears the Gospel and responds by faith, calling on the Lord, that person is saved. But Paul is clear to state the reality as well—that person was elected, chosen by God.

      3. Salvation for Jews and Gentiles: Hear and Believe (10:14-21)

Paul shows that there must be messengers of the Gospel who have credentials from God. Preachers have to be sent with the word that people must believe, but they have to be called by God to do so. He supports his point with a citation of Isaiah 52:7, a passage which precedes the marvelous passage of Isaiah 53. And then he cites the beginning of Isaiah 53, “Lord, who has believed our message?” He uses this passage to show from Isaiah that they did not all believe, even though the preacher came from God with the message. He cites this point because it is true, but also because it does not nullify the validity of “by-faith-righteousness.” This fact harmonizes with the whole argument of this section of Romans—many Jews did not believe and therefore died in their sins, even though Israel was the chosen people. It was not God who was at fault; it was their unbelief—the Old Testament is filled with their stories. The grace is that some of them believed.

The messenger simply delivers the word of the Lord—and faith then comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. It was not enough to hear the word of God. It had to be acted upon. And it was not just any report, but it was the prophecy of the salvation of God, to be fulfilled and accomplished by the death and resurrection of the Messiah for the sins of the people.

Paul, then, through a series of questions and quotations, makes the point that Israel did hear the word, and did understand, but refused to believe. God’s word went throughout the world. They also knew from the prophets that the Gospel was going to go to the ends of the earth, and that God would provoke Israel to jealousy by turning to Gentiles. Isaiah had predicted this. So now the Gentiles were finding Christ as Savior. What excuse could the Jews give, for they had and knew the Scriptures that predicted this would happen. (Recall that when the wise men asked where the Messiah was to be born, the religious leaders knew exactly where, and what passage said also—but they would not go the 5 miles to see for themselves).

The final quotation makes Israel’s unbelief all the more astounding. The text shows that God continued to hold out the offer of salvation; their refusal is all the more reprehensible in the light of God’s mercy and patience. They persisted in rebellion and rejection; and now with the fulfillment in Christ Jesus, they continue to reject the truth of the Gospel.

So Paul’s argument in these chapters is clear. He wished to show that in spite of their privileges, most Israelites did not believe. So first he had to show that just because people were part of the family of Abraham did not mean they were saved. From the divine side, it is obvious that God in his election chose some and left others in their hardened condition. Anyone who knew the Law would agree to that. So throughout Israel’s experience there were many who were national Israelites but not of the spiritual seed of Abraham. The fact that God saved some is due to His grace; the fact that He did not destroy everyone immediately is due to His patience (recall the sin of the golden calf in Exodus 32 where they all came close to judgment). If people had wished to be part of the saved elect, they had every opportunity to believe in the LORD for righteousness. So no one could accuse God of unrighteousness, for people got what they desired and deserved. In the final analysis, Israel was rejected because they did not believe.

But looking at it further from the human side it is clear that Israel misunderstood their own Scriptures, and rather than believe in the Lord they tried to earn their righteousness through zeal for the Law. This was not possible. No one could keep the Law and be righteous enough to merit eternal life. Only Christ was able to fulfill the requirements of the Law, and so only Christ can provide righteousness. The Law of Moses itself made it clear that faith was the starting point of obedience to righteousness. But they stumbled over that and refused to believe. Consequently, today there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—all must come to faith in Jesus Christ for salvation or they have no share in the world to come. The irony is that the Gentiles have responded by faith in the Word of the Lord, whereas Israel has resisted, even though the Scriptures themselves predicted that this would happen. But God has been patient with Israel, even though they stiffened in rebellion and unbelief.

Things to Consider

1. How would you arrange what scholars call the “order of salvation”? Take these terms: faith, election, regeneration, justification, redemption, and salvation. What is the theological order of these events?

2. How does the Bible handle the two sides of the issue, election and free will? Can you discover verses or passages where both seem to be cooperating? You might start with Acts 2:23.

3. Why does divine election not alter the fact of the righteousness of God?

4. What specifically goes into calling on the name of the LORD for salvation?

5. Why is resurrection so necessary to the profession of saving faith?

6. For a little more involved study of these two chapters, how would you assess Paul’s use of the Old Testament. Trace back through the passages he cites to see how he interprets them and applies them in the development of his argument.


1 The word “Shekainah” is a Hebrew/Aramaic word (depending on how it is spelled) which means simply “dwelling.” It refers to the glory of the LORD that dwelt in the Sanctuary. Sometimes the word “Shekainah” is used to refer to God himself, as we might use the word heaven.

2 Recall that the Greek work christos is the translation of the Hebrew word mashiah (pronounced mah-she-ack ), “messiah.” They both mean “anointed one,” i.e., the king.

3 There is no personal animosity in the “hating Esau.” It is the Old Testament language for shunning the line not chosen. God’s will was to choose the line from Jacob. Anything not in the will of God is to be rejected as such--as in hating father and mother. The language sounds excessive to us; but to the Hebrews it was for clear demarcation. And, people in the line of Esau, as well as in the line of Jacob, could come to faith--they all had to come to faith to be saved.

4 The Law is still part of Scripture and proftiable for instruction in righteousness; but the details of the Law now have to be interpreted and applied in the light of the fulfillment of Christ.

5 A midrash is an analogical application from Scripture, a homily. The writer quotes from a passage, and rather than explain its literal meaning, makes a spiritual lesson from its analogy.

6 In ancient religions finding the secret of eternal life was often presented as a pilgrimage to the netherworld, or to the realm of the gods, which was impossible. Moses was saying that they did not have to do that--they had divine revelation and faith.

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word)